E_L_B is made up of three highly technically skilled and artistically developed musicians who originally came together and released their first CD in 2001. Now, seven years later, their new project sounds just as fresh and cutting edge as their original release. The trio consists of drummer Peter Erskine, who is no stranger to American audiences due to with his work with Weather Report and Maynard Ferguson, Algerian born bassist Michel Benita, who has worked with artists such as Lee Konitz and Archie Shepp, and French-born of Vietnamese parents guitarist Nguyen Le, whose work spans artists like Kenny Wheeler and Chris Potter. On this recording they are joined on a few tracks by soprano and tenor saxophonist Stephane Guillaume.
Simply put, this music is not something you can use as background music as you drive or eat your dinner. These musicians have come together for one singular purpose, to make serious instrumental music without boundaries and outside of genre classifications. It’s almost as if they have taken the whole history of their instruments, sifted it through a progressive rock mindset, and made sure their jazz proclivities are overlaid before turning themselves loose in the studio in order to be fully in-the-moment in order for the resulting music to dictate their direction. There is truly no sense of "self" anywhere on this disc; this is, in the best sense, music of the now constructed by a hive mind mentality.
Highlights include Erskine’s poignant ballad Song For Jaco. Guillaume’s hauntingly glossy tone wafts through the ensemble as the others set up the structure, broken only for a purely romantic solo from Benita. Le’s "Jive Five" contains a Weather Report quote that is hard to miss. The rush and panic of the tempo is always under control which allows the quote to not just harken back to the musical past but also look forward at the same time. "Kokopanitsa" is full-out progressive rock, and a delight from beginning to its much too quick end.
Le’s singular lines provide powerful counterpoint throughout. On Erskine’s "Twelve," Le darts along with Guillaume in total simpatico, and on "Montreal" he finds new areas to explore in old chord changes. When he does sit back and strum chords one can’t help but be enthralled by his clever voicings as on "Kokopanitsa."
Guillaume, who often works his magic in accompaniment, comes forward on Erskine’s "Plan 9" to blow some wonderfully brilliant bebop lines on top of Erskine’s shifting tumbral palette. Benita is a rock. He bends his tones when needed and rushes and drags the time feel at certain points to the point of perfection that only one who has studied intensely and feels intuitively can produce. Erskine is more than magnificent, he’s all about color, leaving time to Benita’s discretion. This disc is an excellent demonstration of just how multihued percussion can sound with just a few simple instruments. This disc may be Erskine’s best work of the decade, and as consistent as he is, that’s saying a lot.